New General Unions: Trade Union Mergers and Labour Movement Renewal in Canada

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 12:00 PM
Room: Booth 41
Distributed Paper
Christopher HUXLEY , Sociology and International Development Studies, Trent University, Peterborough, ON, Canada
The crisis of organized labour has given rise to an extensive literature and various policy ideas for trade union renewal. One proposal has been to call for union mergers to create new types of labour organizations better equipped to conduct campaigns to increase union density and influence. Are such mergers an indication of union weakness or, if undertaken strategically, do they hold promise for a reinvigorated labour movement?

After reviewing past union mergers in selected industrial relations systems, the paper focuses on a recent new union formed out of the merger of two large private sector unions – the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paper Workers Union of Canada. The paper provides the background to the merger and offers an assessment of the possibilities for labour movement revitalization.

Objectives for the new union include the organization of non-union workers, especially in private service sectors characterized by a concentration of younger employees who make up much of the difficult to organize precariat. New organizational approaches include building union associational and community chapters. These tactics require innovative union philosophies, organization structures more appropriate to the new general unions, and political campaigns to change legislation. Having critically considered these and other ideas on reshaping unions, the paper makes more far-reaching proposals for recasting unions to advance class perspectives that can provide a counter-hegemonic political culture to that of neo-liberalism.

The paper contributes to theory and policy by arguing that an increase in the size and complexity of working-class organizations need not necessarily compromise democratic and militant worker campaigns.

The research draws from a literature review, interviews and recent conference debates on union strategy. The paper has benefited from the author’s involvement in research and education programs for one of the two unions involved in the formation of the new labour organization.